Stem cell transplants may be more effective than the drug mitoxantrone for people with severe cases of multiple sclerosis (MS), revealed researchers from University of Genova in Italy.
In MS, the body's immune system attacks its own central nervous system (CNS). The study involved 21 people with an average age of 36-years, whose disability due to MS had increased during the last year even though they were taking the first-line of treatment to suppress immune system activity. The participants were at an average disability level where a cane or crutch was needed to walk. During the study period, 12 of the participants received the MS drug mitoxantrone, which reduces immune system activity, while in the other 9 participants, stem cells were harvested from their bone marrow. The stem cells were reintroduced through a vein after suppressing the immune system. Over a time period, the cells migrate to the bone marrow and produce new cells that become immune cells. These participants were followed for up to 4-years.
It was seen that intense immunosupression followed by stem cell treatment reduced disease activity significantly more than the mitoxantrone treatment. Participants who received the stem cell transplants had 80 percent fewer new areas of brain damage called T2 lesions than those who received mitoxantrone, with an average of 2.5 new T2 lesions for those receiving stem cells compared to 8 new T2 lesions for those receiving mitoxantrone. None of the people who received the stem cell treatment had a gadolinium-enhancing lesions during the study, while 56 percent of those taking mitoxantrone had at least one new lesion.
Study author Giovanni Mancardi said, "This process appears to reset the immune system. With these results, we can speculate that stem cell treatment may profoundly affect the course of the disease. The serious side effects that occurred with the stem cell treatment were expected and resolved without permanent consequences. More research is needed with larger numbers of patients who are randomized to receive either the stem cell transplant or an approved therapy, but it's very exciting to see that this treatment may be so superior to a current treatment for people with severe MS that is not responding well to standard treatments."
The study appears online in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.